Cardinal Brandmüller - long interview on impending Church crisis

Interview in leading German newspaper which appeared today

Cardinal, at the moment the waters are rising very high in the Catholic Church. The Pope is suspected by some of heresy and celebrated by others as a Lutheran reformer. The stumbling blocks are questions of sexual morality as addressed in the Papal letter, "Amoris laetitia" on marriage and family. The debate is held in a very fierce and fundamental manner around the world, since one bishop's conference is against the other, when it comes to the admission of remarried divorced to the sacraments. From a secular perspective, it is first of all interesting to see how in the 21st century one can still expect to standardize sexual life, provided the partners have reached agreement among themselves.

We should, I think, first ask this fundamental question: What is religion? What does a Catholic understand by religion? Religion in today's understanding is for many a merely psychological, socio-cultural phenomenon.

According to Catholic understanding, religion, however, is not a product of the human mind, nor is it an attempt to illuminate existence by means of philosophical reflection. Religion is the response of the human being to a call coming from outside. And thereby the question about God is put, accordingly the Creator, without which man would not exist. This God, according to the self-understanding of Christianity as a religion of revelation, has revealed himself to man. And indeed, by going himself along the plane in which people exist. According to a general Christian conviction, God became man in Jesus of Nazareth, entered history in order to meet man and to carry out his definite self-communication. The answer of man to this self-communication of the Creator is religion, which, of course, also influences the way of life.

But then the quarrel begins. God does not speak clearly, if one assumes his existence. Revelation has to do with interpretation as it is about language. Are there not different theological schools? In fact, the problem at issue here seems to go far beyond questions of sexual morality. Is it not the core question of the reasons why someone - an institution, a single person - can claim to be able to speak bindingly in the name of God? And could not it be that this age-old religious-critical question now also breaks out within the Papacy for the first time, which is why a letter like "Amoris laetitia" is deliberately kept blurred?

First of all, there is a natural law basis on which marriage, love, family can also be perceived.

The appeal to natural law, however, merely shifts the question: Who interprets it with what reasons?

The law of nature, to which Catholic dogmatic theology refers, sees marriage as a bond of life between man and woman with the aim of the spread of human life. This natural marriage is lifted by Christ into a supernatural, divine sphere and made a sacrament. Sacrament is an outward sign that is used by Christ to show and effect a grace in the soul of man. Sacraments effect what they express. According to this view of the Church, which cannot necessarily be shared by agnostics and atheists, but in this view marriage is no longer a matter only between man and woman and society, but a matter between man and woman and God, who gives them, as it were, the authority to continue his creation. The Apostle Paul says: Christian, sacramental marriage is a real reflection of the relationship between Christ and his Church. We proclaim here a message which surpasses human reason but does not contradict it.

As a poetic view of love, one would like to leave it like that. But as a normative presupposition, this view of life encounters harshly with that self-determined conception of gender relations as it prevails today. The love-relations have radically de-traditionalized. The cultural choices for the child, male partner or female partner, for hetero- or homosexual connections, are decoupled from biological prescriptions. Also, one can mutually agree on these matters. Is the loosening of sexual morality in the theological sign of mercy, as Francis evidently strives for it, not to lead the way, if the Church wants to have something to say to man in the future?

The Gospel of Jesus Christ opens horizons which, without which, what we call revelation, are initially inaccessible to natural reason. This means that a contradiction between Gospel and social plausibility cannot come as a surprise. Jesus himself speaks plain text in the context when he speaks unmistakably of the indissolubility of marriage and the reprehensibility of adultery. So, when I am Catholic, I move within this framework. It is a framework which takes into account the reality of the possible failure of a marriage and allows for the separation of the table and the bed in the event of the incompatibility of the spouses.

Going out to yes, once again marrying no? Is not that an exasperating conviction remote from life, which would be corrected by "Amoris laetitia", perhaps in theologically sloppy manner but none the less authoritatively?

As I said, Jesus himself speaks of the indissolubility of marriage and the reprehensibility of adultery. Though the possibility of failure has always been taken into account in the church framework. This has often happened, that one of the married partners turned out to be unbearable in the literal sense. But there is no possibility of remarriage. It did not exist in the whole of Christian history up to Luther.

The separation of table and bed reminds of the English aristocracy, where one always said in relation to the spouse: divorce never, murder at any time. When I get to know my neighbour in the stairwell and am no longer with my wife and am "separated from bed and table", but move to the neighbour - what is then happening?


And if I remain with the neighbour for the next ten years, without repentance, but with feelings of happiness?

Then this is a concubinage. Continued adultery.

How would that be placed in the hierarchy of the offence?

A serious sin.

But not comparable to remarriage?

No, because the concubinage is always solvable - also humanly, socially. You just go out and go somewhere else.

Does this position not seem quite formalistic to you? Nor does it seem to be compatible with a language of love.

Yes, but excuse me! Christianity, especially in its Catholic form, is an annoyance for the world. And Christ was and remains a challenge to the world. Christianity and the Church are not on the panting hunt for plausibility and applause. That will not do.

What then do you say to those who say: If we do not change now, then we are going to go down.

Oh, you mean the church is going down?

Well, here it is, to put it carefully, here and there the impression remains.

Excuse me, what does the Gospel stand for? The Gospel does not prognosticate a glorious triumph of faith and the Church, but the great fall. I need not to even open the Apocalypse of John, the four Gospels suffice. And the decisive factor is that the Church as such does not perish. "Fear not, little flock," says Christ, "for my Father hath promised to give you the kingdom." These are things which we must recognise and say with all clarity. And this constant cramping effort to cause no offence, in all things to be childish, is not compatible with the Gospel, with the existence of the Christian in this world. The cooling of love is discussed in the Gospel. Do we have a warming of love? We have such a coldness of love that we kill unborn children and the old, demented, sick people. Is that cooling of love? I think so. Today we are doing for what for years people have been sentenced to death.

Do you mean systematic euthanasia as well as the possible help in death from dementia?

Of course.

In your "Dubia," in which you with other cardinals have addressed your doubts to the, Pope, you refer to the encyclical "Veritatis splendor" of John Paul II and the doctrine of the "moral absolute". So, there are things that never depart, no matter how aggravating circumstances and good intentions may be. Among these, killing of innocent people, torture, or even adultery. Whether or not you are in the right or wrong about "Amoris laetitia" – your polite remarks to the Pope, your "Dubia" will appear to us unobjectionable. Instead of the requested clarification, however, there were threats and insinuations, your questions were referred to as Pharisaic questions. The chairman of the Central Committee of the German Catholics said that "it was a question of vile and shabby trick questions and traps".

We take it easy about that.

But you understand that the making public of the questions addressed to the Pope is questionable?

That may be, but the publication of the questions took place after a month of waiting for an answer, including an acknowledgement of receipt, which has never been done. And especially with regard to the fact that many believers had and have the same questions and are waiting for an answer. We, the Cardinals do not live outside the world. We have many connections. What do you think of the many phone calls, letters, queries we get? In these, among other things, it is also asked: Why do you not do anything, you cardinals? After all, we have taken an oath of office and are the official adviser to the Pope. We asked for audience and did not get an answer.

We see rightly that the dispute over "Amoris laetitia" is at the core of a footnote in which, according to your opinion, the transcendent doctrine is overridden by a loophole, inasmuch as the circumstances and intentions of an action entitle the taking of “so-called in themselves bad actions - killing innocent, torture, adulteration - to make a "under certain circumstances" action permitted?

The main point is footnote 352. And now I am being told that the entire moral theological tradition of the church can be overridden by a footnote. In doing so, one refers to the church fathers.

This reforming enterprise is not, in fact, inelegant. One leaves the traditional doctrine, and the Catechism truths unaffected, but loosens their commitment, their binding force. According to this, Cardinal Walter Kasper had hit the bull's eye when he said that nothing was changed by this letter, "Amoris laetitia," and yet everything has changed.

What you put there as instances does not effectively sting. It was based on a single author who, on his part, had worked not only sloppily but ideologically. And then I will be told that one is relying on the fathers. I say: That which does not exist. The whole is a dishonest story, which is manipulation of the sources. And, as a historian, one is particularly allergic to this. You should never do that.

Does the impression deceive or do you believe that the pontificate of Francis church-historically to be an episode that will be corrected by his successors?

The question, as you once said before, is: Is there a binding, obliging authority in religious questions? Such exist. When Jesus took leave of his disciples, he said, "I am with you every day, even to the end of the world, go and teach all nations. And then he says, "It is good for you that I go, for then the Spirit of truth can come, the Spirit who will lead you into all truth, which will always be with you. That is, the apostles are the authentic preachers of the Gospel of Christ. The Apostles' successors today are the Pope and the Bishops. So, there is an ecclesiastical teaching authority which proclaims bindingly in the authority of Jesus Christ, which is the gospel of Jesus Christ. This proclamation occurs in such a way that it is binding in conscience.

Because there is no room for discussion in the line of your presentation?

If I say "no" to the proclamation, I risk my eternal salvation, so it is a dogma. A dogma can be proclaimed in a certain form by a General Council or even by the pope alone under certain conditions. It is the dogma that marriage is a sacrament and consequently indissoluble. Do not forget that it was the Council of Trent (1546 to 1564), which, in the context of the marriage scandal of Henry VIII, and the “allowed" double marriage of Philip of Hesse, approved by Luther and Melanchthon, proclaimed the permanent doctrine of the Church as formal dogma,

What does that mean in concrete terms? And how important would a contradiction be in the concern for the afterlife?

That is to say, whoever asserts that one can enter into a new relationship during his lifetime of his lawfully married wife is excommunicated because this is an erroneous teaching, a heresy. Whoever claims it. And whoever does it, sins heavily. And then it comes to the situation whoever is aware of a serious sin - can only go to the Eucharist - if they have done penance before, has confessed, and has been absolved. If, then, one thinks to be able to contradict the defined dogma of a General Council, then that is already a serious matter. Just that is called heresy - and this means exclusion from the church - because of leaving the common ground of faith.

And who, even as a Pope, who simply considers the world of yesterday and says: I am a man of today?

Whoever thinks this has long been overtaken by the social, cultural development, takes their stand on classical modernism of 1900. They should do so quietly. It is not Catholic any more. These theological modernists - that is, modernists in the technical sense, not now in general - have done nothing other than to adopt Hegel and evolutionism. The evolutionist concept in theology means that man constantly develops upward, from one cultural level of consciousness to the next. And with him religion develops. So that tomorrow it may be true, that which was yesterday's mistake. And vice versa. The modernists, in the course of the twentieth century, have transferred these theories of development to theology. And we already have the unholy theological mess of today
The liberal Freiburg theology, Magnus Striet, wrote at the beginning of the year in the Herder Correspondence. "If it is presently heard that" Amoris laetitia "had not altered the doctrine of the Church, but only deepened understanding, it was already astonishing. One wants to please openly say that it is changed with this letter.

Of course, he is right. There are actually people who can still think. I have great concern that something explodes. The people are not stupid. The mere fact that a petition with 870,000 signatures to the Pope with the request for clarification, that fifty scholars of international rank remain without answer, raises questions indeed. This is really hard to understand.

In this connection, the critics point out that the Pope who behind the smiling façade is an authoritarian type, who has a dubious way of dealing with staff. He therefore exchanges theologically highly trained staff for less crafted people. This included a thorough direction of the Synod when the foundations for "Amoris laetitia" had been discussed in Rome, combined with Jesuit refinement. 

Yes, such criticism is being made to an increasing extent, even in Ross Douthat's articles in the New York Times. There are journalists who say that the atmosphere in the Vatican was totally transformed. One speaks only with the closest friends. When you are on the telephone, use the mobile phone. What can I say?

What do you think of the construction of the "emeritus pope", as Joseph Ratzinger claims?

The "Papa emeritus" as a figure does not exist in the entire church history. And that a Pope is now Such, and a two-thousand-year-old tradition is overthrown, that has not only made an impact on the Cardinal. I had guests on that Shrove Monday of 2013, an interesting table discussion. We were sitting at the aperitif and are waiting for the missing guest, as a journalist calls with the question: Have you heard it already? I even thought it was a Carnival joke.

Which of your doubts formulated in the "Dubia" -letter is the central one? How would you try to explain it to a layman?

First, "Dubia," that is, doubts, to address questions to the Pope, has always been a process to eliminate ambiguities. Completely normal. Then, to simplify the question, the question is: Can today be something good that was yesterday's sin? In addition, the question is asked whether there are actions which are always morally reprehensible, under all circumstances. For example, the killing of an innocent - or adultery? This is the end of it. If in fact the first question should be answered with yes and the second with no - then, then this would be heresy, and as a result schism. Division of the church.

Do you think a schism is actually conceivable?

May God prevent this.